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When Opportunity Knocks
By:  Scott Baker | Tennis4you  | Tennis Forum  | E-mail

Learning to recognize opportunities in the game of tennis can mean the difference between winning the point and losing the point or even a match. When you see that your opponent is in trouble, or that they might be, you must use your instincts to attack. The slightest bit of hesitation and you could make the situation a lot harder for yourself or simply cause yourself to lose the point. If you can train yourself to be aware and alert of when your opponents are in trouble getting to a ball, when they are stretched out or they are off balance when hitting their shot, you can take quickly take advantage and be aggressive. The quicker you recognize the situation the quicker you can act. The quicker you act the higher the percentage you will win the point.

Allow me to give you a few examples:

Example 1: Imagine you are playing out a point that you and your opponent are on the baselines exchanging ground strokes. You hit a deep shot into the corner that your opponent may get to but will be in trouble trying to hit the ball back. Unfortunately what I see a lot of in tennis is players waiting on (or behind) the baseline and not taking the initiative when such an opportunity presents itself.

The instant you a hit your shot you should know if your opponent will struggle to get the ball back or if they will easily get to the ball and be in control of their next shot. If you hit a shot that you recognize your opponent is in trouble you should get to the net and wait for the weak return and finish with an easy volley. If you are uncomfortable playing at the net then your best play is to move a few feet into the court and wait for the short ball to attack. This will allow you to attack the ball quicker and give your opponent less time to recover. If you wait until you actually see your opponent in trouble it may be to late for you to be aggressive and attack. If you hesitate, even just for a second, you will not be able to get as close to the net to hit the volley or close in on the ground stroke. Slowly closing in on weak shots gives your opponent more time to recover, and makes the point more difficult for you to win.

Example 2: This time let us put your opponent at the net and you on the baseline. You hit a great topspin cross court shot that just dips over the net and your opponent has to stretch and barely reaches the ball. If your opponent gets a racquet on the ball they will most likely not be able to do much with their volley. This time take a few steps into the court after you hit the ball and look for the weak volley return. If you shot was tough enough then your opponent will most likely give you a short ball to attack and put away. If you stay on or behind the baseline you will now have to run up to the ball to hit it. This means the ball will probably be lower, and now your opponent will have time to recover back into the point and potentially be aggressive with their next shot. Instead, step up, get to the ball quicker, and again, rob your opponent of (recovery) time.

Example 3: The short ball. If you are in the middle of a rally and your opponent hits a short ball this is a great opportunity to hit an approach shot and come to the net. This is where an "all-court tennis game" comes into play. I still see players run up to the short ball, hit the ball, and then back-peddle to the baseline. To give up such an offensive position is not strategically wise and you are putting yourself in a vunerable position. Close quickly on short balls and follow your shot to the net to take control of the point. If you do not have good volleys than you need to develop your volleys so you can take advantage of this opportunity and take control of the point. Even Andre Agassi knows when to come to the net to finish the point, even though he is purely a baseliner.

There are many other ways and situations in tennis to see opportunities and to take advantage of them. The examples mentioned above are just a few of many to give you an idea and some examples of the certain situations. Do what works best for you, but be sure to capitalize on your opportunities and learn to recongize and act quickly when your opponents are in trouble. It is as important as learning when and what to do when you are in trouble on the court.

When I am the one on the defensive end of the point scrambling to just get the ball back over the net I love nothing more than to see my opponent sitting on the baseline waiting for the ball to come to them. This allows me time to get the ball back over the net and recover to the center of the court and get ready to continue the point. If my opponent is to attack and come to the net, or to step in the take my return early it puts extra pressure on me as the defensive player. The more tennis you play the easier it is to see such opportunities. It needs to become a natural instinct for you to see your opponent struggling and what you can do to make sure they do not recover.

Good Luck on the Court!
Scott Baker